While the COVID-19 pandemic brought much of the nation to a halt, it didn’t slow down the efforts of members of American Legion Post 88 in Norman, Okla., to assist their fellow veterans.
In fact, it increased those efforts, to the point where the post’s service officer recently was named Veteran Service Officer of the Year during the Department of Oklahoma’s convention.
But for Carl Ellison, a Department of Veterans Affairs-accredited service officer with more than 30 years of experience handling veterans benefits claims, the award needed to not go to him, but to his team.
Assisting Ellison throughout the pandemic has been department service officer and fellow Post 88 member Cheryl Cooper, as well as Post 88 members Harley McPeek, Coy Hensley and Tammie Richard also are service officers assisting the effort. Hensley and Richard have gone through training and are awaiting accreditation, while Jose Chavez recently came on board and is working on his accreditation.
Since July 2020, the group has been able to obtain $1.7 million in benefits for veterans, and their spouses and dependents.
“I wish they would have given (the award) to my whole group of people that helped me out,” Ellison said. “I can’t do this by myself. I can only teach so much and talk so much, and they run with it. And they do what’s right and get it done.”
In addition to maintaining regular Monday office hours and allowing for appointments to be scheduled throughout the pandemic, the post’s service officers also worked from home. Cooper uses VetPro software from her residence, handling claims while allowing veterans to stay safely in their homes throughout the process.
“It would have been easy to sit there and say ‘we’re going to shut our doors down’, just like everyone else did,” Ellison said. “But that’s why we’ve tried to do what we do and instill the trust within the community that we are here to assist our local veterans, as well as those abroad. We’re doing a claim right now from Italy.
“We are veterans helping veterans and their families, and those needs have not stopped because of the COVID-19 situation. If anything, the need is even greater, which is why we have not halted our efforts since the beginning. It’s a thing that’s near and dear to your heart – that you’re able to give back and help.”
Via press release, Post 88 Commander Ernest Martin said that Ellison is very deserving of the award.
“Carl Ellison is one of those people always willing to help anyone at any time,” Martin said. “During the pandemic he worked tirelessly, regardless of his personal risk, in order to help veterans and their family members in need, and he has not stopped. He is a true example of selfless service, and someone I am proud to call my friend.”
For Ellison, working to assist veterans continues to be a decades-long calling. “I’m glad to be doing it,” he said. “I’m honored to do it. And I’m honored that the people in the department decided to award me with this.”